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June 16, 2004

USA Today

Several members of this class are participating in a national study of aging and creativity that examines whether creative pursuits can benefit people 65 and older. In groups in San Francisco, New York and Washington, D.C., they sing, write or create visual art for at least an hour a week in programs taught by professional musicians, artists and writers. Then they perform or display their work. Researchers hoped participants would experience fewer health declines than seniors who didn't participate. And results from the first year of the Washington portion of the project, the first results in, have exceeded their expectations. Participants not only maintained their health, but they actually improved it, says project director Gene Cohen, director of the Center on Aging, Health & Humanities at George Washington University.

The group of 75 older adults, average age 80, sing at least once a week in a choral group led by a professional conductor. Everyone in the study lives independently, whether in assisted-living communities or at home. Participants reported that they fell less often, needed fewer medications, felt less depressed and less lonely, and became more active than a comparison group of 75 seniors in similar health and living circumstances. "It's extraordinary that they actually improved," Cohen says. More results will be available after the study, which is financed primarily by the National Endowment for the Arts, ends in late 2005.

The positive early results don't surprise those who have been working with seniors in the arts for years. "People need a reason to live, and arts give you a sense of connection to life," says Susan Perlstein, who heads the New York portion of the study and is executive director of the National Center for Creative Aging/Elders Share the Arts in Brooklyn, N.Y. "They give you a passion; they give the skills. Just the artistic process itself is one in which you have to focus and concentrate on many levels." Paula Terry, director of the Access-Ability office with the National Endowment for the Arts, spearheaded the project because she wanted data that would measure whether there was any scientific basis for what she's been hearing for years.

Artists who work with seniors tell her that older people's "depression goes away; they become healthier; they form all these new relationships and on and on." She and others hope the project not only will encourage more arts participation among seniors but also that it will spur Congress to increase spending for programs such as these because health benefits can translate into saved health care dollars. More

Posted by acapnews at June 16, 2004 9:47 PM

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